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Opening doors in Vietnam

A Presbyterian house-church movement is committed to spreading the gospel

For an entire generation of Americans, images of Vietnam are frozen in time from the 1960s and 70s: jungle warfare, soldiers coming home in body bags, Americans fleeing from the U.S. embassy in helicopters at the war’s end. But since then much has happened.

Photo of Michael Parker

Michael Parker, Coordinator of the Office of International Evangelism

Vietnam’s government has largely abandoned communism, and embraced the market economy. It has made peace with its neighbors, ending a military occupation of Cambodia, and now enjoys normalized relations with the United States. And though the government has generally been hostile to Protestant churches, in the last few years it has given official recognition to eight of them.

“The heart and soul of Vietnam’s house church movement is evangelism, and this core value is deeply embedded in every pastor and leader,” says Paul Friesen, the PC(USA)’s regional liaison for Southeast Asia.

Birth of a church

Vietnam is traditionally a Buddhist country. Because of the efforts of French Catholic missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Vietnam today has about 6 million Catholics, about 8 percent of the country’s 87 million population. The first Protestant missionaries entered Vietnam in 1911. Today there are about 1½ million Protestants, or about 1.2 percent of the population.

In 1988 a small group of Christians began to meets in the home of Ho Tan Khoa and his wife Mary Lien in Ho Chi Minh City. This became the nucleus of the United Presbyterian Church of Vietnam (UPCV).

Photo of young men at worship

Presbyterian youth worshiping in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by Michael Parker

As Khoa’s group sought resources for training leaders and learning the Bible, they were aided by Mercer Island Presbyterian Church, in Seattle, Washington. The church’s membership has grown to about 6,500, divided among over a hundred small fellowship groups. Most are located in the southern part of Vietnam, but the northern city of Hanoi now has four congregations. The members gather in homes or rented facilities. Among the church leaders are 10 pastors, 16 candidates for the pastorate and 33 evangelists.

Presbyterian worshippers in Ho Chi Minh City

U.S. Presbyterians are supporting the fledgling church in Vietnam in a variety of ways. The PC(USA) Office of International Evangelism  is helping to provide leadership training, and funds for an office headquarters, annual leaders’ meetings, and an annual women’s gathering. In the future, OIE will be supporting the mission outreach of the UPCV and the work of the church’s bible school.

Toward a more public witness

Official recognition will enable the church to proclaim the gospel publicly and reach out more visibly to the non-Christian population. It may also open the way for the church to host a mission co-worker from the PC(USA), a position we hope to have in place this year. Mission leaders expect a growing number of house churches to surface in Vietnam as more and more Protestant denominations receive official recognition.

If you would like to support the work of OIE in Vietnam, give to the Extra Commitment Opportunity account for Vietnam, ECO 040079.  You may also give to the General Frontier Evangelism account, ECO 863001.

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  • Thank you, Rev. Kirkelie, for your comment. I am planning to return to Vietnam this June to visit Pastor Khoa and the leaders of the emerging church there. I hope to be there at the time of the church's anniversary celebration at the end of the month. (This response comes so late because I was traveling in Africa through most of February.) Mike Parker by Mike Parker PC(USA) Staff on 03/07/2011 at 3:01 p.m.

  • Praise our Lord for the witness of the Gospel there in Vietnam. I came back to America 1965, a young Army soldier, from the war in Vietnam. I had a burden on my heart to preach the Gospel. Now, more than forty years have passed, and what a joy it has been since 2006 to work alongside of Pastor Khoa and his dear wife Mary. I go each year to help train Church leaders that work with Pastor Khoa in the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship. Now, our first Reformed Church, Lynden, WA has sponsored Evangelist LE TAN DUONG, one of Pastor Khoa's Elders, to come to Lynden and plant a VN congregation here in Whatcom county. by Chaplain Mike Kirkelie, USA, Ret on 02/19/2011 at 10:46 a.m.

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